(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)By CHUCK KINGAssociated Press
With ace Chris Carpenter sidelined, possibly for the season, the St. Louis Cardinals are hoping for more wins and innings from Jaime Garcia.
The 26-year-old left-hander had reconstructive elbow surgery in September 2008, then returned in 2010, went 13-8 and finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
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Now that was pressure.
”Nothing can compare with that year, being 23 years old and coming back from Tommy John surgery,” Garcia said. ”I didn’t have experience at the major league level every day. I had to compete.”
After going 13-7 in 2011 and helping the Cardinals win the World Series, Garcia slumped to a 7-7 record in just 20 starts last year. He was sidelined between June 5 and Aug. 19 because of a strained left shoulder, then lasted just two innings in Game 2 of the NL division series against Washington and was taken off the roster because of a strained rotator cuff and inflammation.
He chose rehabilitation rather than surgery during the offseason. He says his comeback from the elbow operation and fighting through the shoulder problem last season helped him gain perspective.
”That was a pretty tough thing to do to be able to stay focused,” Garcia explained. ”After going through that and having the experience and just going through what I did last year, I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it’s easier to go out there and focus on the things I can control.”
Garcia passed his first major test of spring training on Saturday, throwing 25 pitches during a batting practice session. Garcia said Sunday he felt good and excited to be able to throw all his pitches.
Adam Wainwright, projected to start the Cardinals’ opener at Arizona on April 1, was impressed by Garcia’s workout.
”He looked great – sinking it, cutting it, curving it, changing it, just like he always does,” Wainwright said. ”What he brings is very valuable. He has nasty stuff.”
If his health is good, Garcia is likely to be the Cardinals’ No. 2 starter.
”He looks great,” manager Mike Matheny said. ”He’s going to be out there. That’s all there is to it.”
Garcia is 34-23 with a 3.43 ERA in his first four major league seasons. All the time off from last season combined with better offseason conditioning has him feeling better now than during previous spring trainings.
”One thing I can say right now is that I’m healthy,” Garcia said. ”The biggest thing is that I want to go out there for my teammates, for the front-office people that believe in me. I know I can be that guy that they know I can be.”